Friday 24 January 2020

Letters to the Editor: 'Healthy to debate past'

Members of the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1913
Members of the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1913
Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Sir - The discourse currently surrounding the commemoration of those who died serving with the Royal Irish Constabulary is healthy in a modern State that must come to terms with its origins and the ambiguity of the identities that exist on the island that we inhabit.

Public commemoration of past events is a complex and often divisive undertaking and subject to intense ideological negotiation, even when those being commemorated fall into the accepted narrative of the events being commemorated.

When the function of the commemoration is to change or broaden the narrative and to incorporate the dead into the larger political discourse, it is fraught with difficulty.

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To realise that commemoration is a present-centred activity is to ensure that the past does not dictate the future.

What point is being made? Acknowledgment that those who held a different view on Ireland's future and who died in that cause are part of our story, part of what makes us who we are today.

They and their relatives deserve recognition.

If we cannot find space for them, how can we find space for the million people who share this island with us and whose view on Ireland's future is entwined in union with Britain?

The discourse is healthy as it demonstrates how far we have come and how far we must travel to reach a genuine and lasting peace on this island.

Vincent Duggan,

Bandon, Co Cork


It's wrong to pick over Ireland's past

Sir - Following the uproar concerning the commemoration of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, perhaps a change in approach to the nature of remembrance is required.

Initially, the project of memory was based around a 'decade of commemoration'. This is where the difficulty arises, the use of the word commemoration in all its glory suggests a type of celebration. Unsurprisingly, this has caused intense turmoil for many, especially relating to the dreadful activities of the Black and Tans in Ireland and their irrefutable links to the RIC.

Nonetheless, the violence of this era was reflected through the actions of all the warring parties. We could spend hours arguing on the rights and wrongs of this period. For instance, many Irish men served in the RIC from its inception in 1822. Close to 500 members were killed during its duration, but their links to the British establishment meant the legacy of these men was tarnished; similar to thousands of Irish men who fought and lost their lives under the British in World War I, a legacy which, thankfully has recently been respectfully addressed.

Intriguingly, as Alvin Jackson has argued in Ireland 1798-1998 War, Peace and Beyond (2010), service with the British army also appears as a common characteristic of the IRA. Tom Barry, the architect of the Kilmichael Ambush, was a veteran of the British army, as was Tom 'Trigger Morris' a leading IRA man in south Derry, previously, a decorated major within British ranks; even the legendary Michael Collins had an uncle in the RIC.

Collins with his acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, secured links with the British establishment which led to the Irish Civil War, an event which ultimately was one of Ireland's great travesties due to the slaughter of Irish men through warfare and state executions. The point being, all sides have historical British links and we cannot, nor should not, cherry-pick aspects of our past to suit any singular agenda. Ireland's history is much too complex to make such a sweeping and careless move.

If we replaced the slogan 'decade of commemoration' with 'decade of reflection' it may defuse the simmering tensions that currently exist. To reflect extinguishes any thought of celebration or recognition. Ireland's past is soaked in the blood of many, and, as a nation, we should reflect, learn from, and appreciate that commemoration is too divisive as proved by last week's reactions.

Declan Monaghan,

Tullamore, Co Offaly


RIC and DMP were separate

Sir - In his article last Sunday, Breandan Mac Suibhne referred to the decision of the Government to remember the policemen who served in the RIC and the DMP. It should be noted that these were completely different organisations: the DMP men who served in Dublin only were unarmed, were paid by the ratepayers of Dublin, and their duties included the enforcement of the local by-laws. They were to become, in 1925, the basis of the new An Garda Siochana.

Sean Quinn,

Blackrock, Co Dublin


In war no one has monopoly of virtue

Sir - I am saddened by the wave of anti-RIC/DMP rhetoric that has dominated in recent days, causing a well-meaning government to panic and do a U-turn on the planned ceremony in Dublin Castle. Over half way through the (so-called) "Decade of Commemoration", I was pleased to see that all participants in the historic events of a century ago were being commemorated by the State - including the 116 British soldiers killed suppressing the Easter Rising in Dublin. But the RIC and DMP men killed in the same period are still to be banished from the historical narrative. One wonders how are we going to commemorate the 80 or so summary executions carried out by the Free State government in 1922/23.

We have heard and read much in recent days about the undoubted crimes of many in the RIC, but little of the 525 policemen who were slaughtered in the period 1919 to 1922, many in the most appalling circumstances.

The IRA men who confronted lorry-loads of Tans or Auxiliaries were certainly courageous - they were confronting World War I veterans who knew how to fight back. But let's be honest, many of the IRA killings were grubby little murders of unarmed policemen shot down while attending or leaving church, visiting pubs and shops or out strolling with their wives, girlfriends or children.

In wars and especially civil wars, whether we like it or not, it is a sad but true fact that neither side has a monopoly of virtue, and atrocities are practically inevitable.

As George Orwell said: "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

Gerard Lovett,

Dublin 16


Listen to what Einstein said

Sir - What a furore we have seen over these proposed commemorations, now postponed. Maybe we should remember Albert Einstein's words of many years ago:

"Weak people revenge.

Strong people forgive.

Intelligent people ignore."

Pat Burke Walsh,

Gorey, Co Wexford


Australia burns but we suffer, too

Sir - Added to the human tragedy of the Australian bush fires has been the devastating loss of so many animals and birds. Aside from the suffering borne by these creatures, the inferno has pushed some endangered species even closer to extinction.

This ecological catastrophe has concentrated the minds of conservationists globally on the need to preserve precious wildlife and their habitats in the face of growing and varied threats to their survival.

We have no cause to be complacent here in Ireland when it comes to caring for vulnerable eco-systems. While this is an issue that should concern every citizen, politicians have been unhelpful in the bid to safeguard our biodiversity.

Last year, a vociferous band of rural TDs lobbied for the "right" of landowners to burn vegetation in March, a development that would have endangered breeding birds and protected habitats nationwide.

Then there was the case where a council allowed the destruction of a wetlands area that was home to numerous species of flora and fauna, including the endangered European eel.

Ireland faces a biodiversity crisis. An estimated one-third of all species here, including plants, birds, butterflies, freshwater fish, dragonflies and sharks are facing possible extinction. Only one-third of Ireland's hedgerows are now capable of catering for birds and other wildlife.

Many Irish rivers and lakes are polluted, and the conservation status of 90pc of our highest-value habitats protected under the EU's Habitats Directive is deemed to be poor or inadequate.

In the late 1980s, there were 5,000 breeding pairs of curlews here. Now there are about 130 pairs. Successive governments ignored the curlew's sad plight.

Decision-making on the future of Ireland's biodiversity should be taken out of the hands of politicians and left to an independent body of professionals completely free of the political sphere.

Otherwise, our wonderful wildlife heritage will remain a hostage to electoral self-interest and cute-hoorism.

John Fitzgerald,

Callan, Co Kilkenny


Are any of them worth a vote?

Sir - We often hear the phrase, "if you don't vote, you can't complain".

And, yes, people really did make the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy democracy and a free vote. But here's the rub. Who is worthy of our vote?

You couldn't get a cigarette paper between the two main parties' political positions. Labour sold its soul to the public sector unions and got wiped out for it. That leaves Sinn Fein, the Greens and a motley group of Independents.

The shameful shenanigans and controversies over recent months in the Dail around voting, attendance and other issues makes me despair. God, help us!

Yes, people did give their lives for our freedom and democracy. And look what we have now. Is there a single patriot in the Dail, or are they all just "fumbling in the greasy till"?

It is difficult not to be cynical.

Gerard Barrett,

Sandyford, Co Dublin


Stormont will offer stability all round

Sir - Thankfully, very encouraging news from our Tanaiste Simon Coveney and the Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith on recommencement of devolution with the reconvening of Stormont. Three years was an awful long time - the political stalemate resulted in disaster for social and economic issues. There are times when a stick is just a stick - or it could be a baton.

A stick has different uses, as a helpful instrument for walking possibly; a baton can be used for conducting music.

But both may be used as a weapon.

The Irish language act, I felt, was being used as a stick rather than a baton. It is seen by some as a tool to beat one side as opposed to being a baton and encouraging others to learn; and to be passed on like in a relay.

All the best to all involved in the future there which should help to stabilise and prosper the whole island and we all run with the many positives now being offered.

Ken Maher,

Kilcoole, Co Wicklow


Thank you, Larry, for the gift of music

Sir - I was very sad to hear of Larry Gogan's passing. He started my interest in music.

As a teenager I listened to Radio Luxembourg 208, Tuesday nights 9 to 11, for the chart countdown. I tuned in to David Hamilton on BBC for all the hits, but the undisputed king was Larry. At 11pm on RTE Radio, Larry and Ken Stewart brought us the sound of the British charts alongside the best of tracks from the Irish scene. Larry introduced us to the Boomtown Rats' Looking after Number One. Then came Radio 2 Comin atcha, with I Don't Like Mondays. The Just A Minute quiz, the first Christmas song of the season. Larry was up to date on all the current artists and always put his listeners in good form.

Unfortunately, I was never on Larry's Just A Minute quiz but I did win a prize on Mark Cagney's quiz a few years back. He summed up Larry in a word: gentleman. Thank you, Larry, for the gift of music

Mike Geraghty,

Newcastle, Galway


Who best will unify the country?

Sir - The job facing the voters in the days or weeks to come is to determine which hearts, minds and souls command those qualities best suited to unify our country rather than further divide it, and to secure for the coming generations a legacy of choices based on informed awareness.

Pat O'Callaghan,

Mallow, Co Cork


Dates often end in a big muddle

Sir - I never realised a decade or century started on the first year, as in 2001 for instance, until I read Tom Kirby's interesting letter (Sunday Independent, January 5).

It looks like he is correct in his statement, but don't we always celebrate prematurely in this country anyway?

Easter starts shortly after Christmas, Halloween from August on, and then Christmas straight after Halloween; I saw a Christmas ad on TV on October 28 last, eight weeks before the event. Is it any wonder why we got our dates wrong?

Aidan O'Connor,

Dungarvan, Co Waterford


A solution to the GAA problem

Sir - The GAA calendar conundrum continues to fizzle. There are not enough weeks in the year to fit in all GAA competitions satisfactorily. I suggest the GAA should adopt a 16-month calendar year with a recurring tri-cycle, January 2020 to April 2021; May 2021 to August 2022; September 2022 to December 2023. And then another tri-cycle repeats itself. Each 16th-month year would have its own distinct schedule of games to take account of weather, holidays, day length, schools and colleges competitions, etc.

Joseph Mackey,

Athlone, Co Westmeath


Harry and Meghan's journey

Sir - The decision of Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to quit the family business has taken most by surprise, including the family itself. It's not a matter of running away to join the circus but rather a matter of running away from the circus to join the real world.

They want to work to become financially independent just like the rest of the world that isn't born into wealth and power.

The real tragedy will be for all of those magazines that make their money from scandalous suggestions of what is happening with the royal family.

Good luck Meghan and Harry, you will need it in the real world.

Dennis Fitzgerald,

Melbourne, Australia

Sunday Independent

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